BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
While November is usually remembered with turkey and pies as the kickoff to the holiday season, it also is National Hospice Awareness Month. Halifax Health-Hospice, which has been in Volusia and Flagler counties for 30 years, recently hired Dr. Ronald L. Durham in an effort to reach out to the African-American community.
Durham has served as the organization’s community relations coordinator in Volusia and Flagler counties since September.
The pastor of Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Daytona Beach said he was approached by the organization several months ago and found that it aligned with his ministry.
Help for individuals, community
“A couple of months ago, several individuals from Halifax Health Hospice came to visit me in my office at the church and really expressed a sincere desire to reach out to the African-American community with their message and how they offer assistance to our families. Unfortunately in our community, we are not really taking advantage of it,” Durham told the Daytona Times.
“In their discussions they asked if I knew someone who would be interested,” he continued. “My passion obviously as a pastor is to help people and it certainly ties into my call as a minister of the gospel to help people who are struggling with family at that time in their lives.”
Durham explained that so often hospice resources are not as readily available or accessible to those in the African-American community.
“So I felt it was just a great way for me to continue my role as a person in the community and assist African-Americans in the resources that Halifax-Health Hospice does offer.
“So often hospice is viewed by, at least in our community in many instances, as a place, rather than a concept, and because it is viewed as a place oftentimes in our community they see it as a place you go to die. Because of that, they don’t want to go to that place,” he continued.
“Part of my role is to show that hospice is not a place that you go at the end of your life to end your life, but a place one can go to receive a better quality of life when they are seriously ill.”
Wherever home is for that patient is where hospice will go to provide services, Durham explained. A private residence, an assisted living facility, a nursing home, a hospital.
According to the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, “Hospice provides pain control and palliative care to patients who are terminally ill. It also addresses their social, spiritual, and emotional needs, along with those of their family members.”
For decades, patients have counted on hospice to give them comfort, peace and closure in the twilight of life.
‘Angels of mercy’
“Hospice is for everybody,” Durham continued. “It is a service that I believe that for just the couple of months I’ve been working with Halifax Health-Hospice, everyone who has worked with hospice calls them ‘angels of mercy.’
“Because of the ability that those who are trained clinicians understand that it is a time within the life of every family that there are several things that are needed, the least of which is someone who extends to them compassion, relieves them in many instances of the burdensome chores that come along with caring for someone who is very, very ill. Families that do access hospice are from every ethnic group, every economic level in our community and it just runs the gambit of people who access what we have to offer.”
How hospice helps
About hospice visits, Durham explained, “We make sure the person is as comfortable as possible. In every visit, the nurse, the CNA, the chaplain, whoever it may be that is visiting that patient from Halifax Health-Hospice, one of the primary questions we ask that person is, ‘Are you in pain?’ We want to ensure that we do all that we can to alleviate that person being in pain and in severe distress.”
“We have an entire group of individuals who are volunteers. They will sit with the loved one. They may read to that person while they are there in the home so that the person is not alone and is engaged. The volunteers are very, very helpful to let that patient know and caregiver know there are those in the community who are willing to come in and assist them with some of the basic day-to-day activities they need to have done,” he described.
In addition to caring for the ill patient, hospice offers respite care which gives the patient’s caregiver an opportunity to get out of the house for a few hours, take care of their own needs at a grocery store, or a pharmacy, banking needs. Sometimes a family members is with a loved one practically 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Referrals from anyone
Durham also explained that because of how hospice is structured, anyone – a person’s neighbor, a part of the medical team or family of someone who is very ill – could call Halifax Hospice on the patient’s behalf.
“Generally, our referrals come from doctors whose patients are seen on a regular basis when that doctor sees a steady, progressive decline in the patient’s health. In some instances, it’s the nursing staff within a doctor’s office who are familiar with the service and they will refer patients to us,” he explained.
“Once the referral is made, a nurse will speak to the family and share what the organization can and will do as well as address any questions or concerns they may have about the facility, payment.”
No one turned away
According to Durham, no one will be turned away from hospice services because of an inability to pay. In fact, $2 million was used in community benefits last year.
How the money was spent: $1.5 million went to care for patients who were under or uninsured and an additional $500,000 in other programs such as household support, which could include utilities and household repairs. Funds also support veterans programs, family caregivers, and children’s grief programs, including Camp Begin Again, a program specifically created for children dealing with the loss of a loved one.
There are multiple centers in Flagler and Volusia counties, including Port Orange, Orange City, and Edgewater and offices in DeLand, Ormond Beach, Palm Coast and New Smyrna Beach.
For more information on hospice or to volunteer, call 386-322-4701.